Hobbits modern humans with thyroid deficiency?

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Sydney, Mar 5 (UNI) The prehistoric hobbit-sized people were modern humans suffering from an iodine deficiency that stunted their growth and not a new human species, Australian scientists have stated.

The study, however, has been dismissed as ''complete nonsense'' and a ''travesty'' by members of the discovery team, as well as other scientists.

The discovery team and other researchers believe the diminuitive people, who lived on the Indonesian Island of Flores between 95,000 and 12,000 years ago, were the descendants of more primitive humans, such as Australopithecines.

The bitter scientific squabble over the true identity of the fossil hobbit erupted within days of the 2004 announcement that remains of the metre-tall people, named Homo floresiensis, had been discovered by Australian and Indonesian researchers in a cave.

The recent study states an environmental contribution to the disease suggesting the hobbit's diet was low in iodine and selenium.

''Dwarf cretinism is the result of severe iodine deficiency in pregnancy in combination with a number of other environmental factors,'' researcher Peter Obendorf said. The findings suggest that fossils are not a new species but rather the remains of human hunter-gatherers that suffered from this condition.

But the idea that Homo floresiensis was in fact a human with a thyroid problem has been greeted with scorn by some scientists.

Peter Brown of the discovery team rubbished the claims saying the study was ''complete nonsense and without a glimmer of factual support'' Many of the claims lacked evidence and it was distressing to see reputable scientists involved in such a travesty, the Sydney Morning Hearld quoted Prof Colin Groves, a bioanthropologist at the Australian National University, as saying.

The team's conclusion rests partly on the shape of a depression in one of the skull bones called the pituitary fossa that houses the pituitary gland.

The University of New England team had theorised that the little people may have been descendants of prehistoric hominids, Homo erectus, who reached Flores nearly 1 million years ago.

They had been trying to have the hobbits enshrined as a separate branch of the human family tree.

Leader of the discovery team, Mike Morwood, said the remains of at least 12 hobbits had been found in the cave dating as far back as 95,000 years ago, which was too early for modern humans ''normal or pathological'' to have been there.

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